Moving these omikoshi around is definitively a team effort. It would probably be much easier with about a dozen members but that would be defeating the purpose of this exercise, which is partly to create a group effort to help train the parishioners in pulling together, trusting each other and working as a group rather than a bunch of individuals. It is supposed to be difficult, and getting so many people to pull in one direction is very difficult indeed. The omikoshi took quite some time to finally stop, see-sawing it’s way through the crowd and requiring quite some effort from the leaders of the neighborhood to push it back when it got to close to the final position. At the end, the neighborhood leader will stand on one of the uma, the wooden blocks where the omikoshi is placed to rest, and guide it forward, close enough so that he is able to step up on it and signal the lowering of the omikoshi by clacking to wooden blocks together. It is great fun to see how well coordinated the different omikoshi teams around Tokyo are! The members of this one was very energetic!
The festival season is definitively over but this year’s was a good one. One of my favorite festivals from last season was the Kitazawahachimangu Matsuri (北澤八幡宮祭り) in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. I followed one of the omikoshi belonging to the Yonchome neighborhood just to the south of the shrine. Not all of Yonchome are actually within the parish of this shrine but for this festival I think all of the neighborhood is invited, parishioners or not. They were the last team to brave the stairs and carry the more than a 1000kg heavy omikoshi up towards the shrine. There are actually two large stairs leading up to the shrine but the last one is just too steep so the omikoshi stay on the second stage. That stair is steep enough though and tourists and festival goers scattered over the rails to get out of the way as the omikoshi charged up. Other less adventurous (and probably smarter) photographers stood out of the way well in advance. Myself I made a less glamour but very nimble exit over the railings. More photos to come!
I took these photos on the first day of the big Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine festival a few weeks ago. Usually the kids have their own little omikoshi procession before the adult’s, but in this festival the kids omikoshi went out together with the adult’s, the little one before the big one. These kids even had matching hasten, traditional half coats that used to be worn by all city people, traders, public officials and crafts people all over Japan. This is the perfect way to build community and foster traditions, having the kids taking part and taking responsibility for their own, right next to the adults.
The shrine itself is a little bit out of the way but the area around Shimokitazawa station is considered by many to be one of the hippest areas of Tokyo. Well worth a visit even for the casual tourist coming to Tokyo!
The second day of the Kitazawahachiman Festival (9/7,8 北澤八幡神社例大祭) in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward started out with fine weather but turned increasingly rainy the day wore on, eventually there was such a torrent of water from the skies that even a die hard festival fan like me had to give it up. Before that though, I took a walk through Shimokitazawa and found this omikoshi and its brave crew rushing through the streets in the rain. You can’t tell in the photos how much rain there really was, but I had to wrap a towel around my camera to keep it safe from the water. The festival had eight neighborhoods represented with about twenty omikoshi (essentially mobile sub-shrines paraded through the streets under the protection of the enshrined gods). The cool men and women in these photos belong to the the Yongomutsumi (四五睦). One day I will join one of these crews!